Two and a half years after Rachel Daly was called into Mark Sampson’s first ever England squad, the Houston Dash forward is back in the fold after an impressive start to life in the National Women’s Soccer League in the USA.
Formerly called up as a defender, Daly has made the full transition from solid tackler to tricky attacker during her time across the pond at St. John’s University, and her talents made sure she was as high as the sixth pick when the NWSL Draft got under way at the start of the year.
Born in Harrogate, Daly was a youngster in a Leeds Carnegie team that housed players such as Steph Houghton, Ellen White, Carly Telford, Gemma Bonner, Jess Clarke and Laura Bassett. Like many of them she made the transition to Lincoln Ladies when Carnegie pulled out of women’s football before eventually pursuing a career in America.
The 24-year-old admits that moving away from home changed her attitude towards football as a career and has been crucial in her development since leaving Lincoln in 2012.
“I think I’ve improved in terms of the physical side of the game,” she said.
“I was never too into fitness when I was playing in England before, I wasn’t pushing myself and I was just settling for being good and nothing better than that.
“I actually had a conversation with Mark when I joined up and I said I felt my level of maturity had improved just by going out there to New York and living on my own for four years, no family around me. I’ve really bought into the fact that I have to get stronger, I have to get fitter and that’s the thing that’s just taken my game to the next level.”
With attacking options at an all-time high in the England squad, fans were looking towards players like Arsenal’s Danielle Carter or Sunderland’s Beth Mead to come in should Sampson decide to make changes but it appears it is Daly – along with Manchester City’s Nikita Parris – that have had an influence on his decisions.
Sampson has dropped two big name attackers in Eni Aluko and Toni Duggan in order to make room for Daly but she says there was little warning of a call-up until she received the email last Wednesday morning.
“I just got the email like all the girls do, you get a long list of players a few weeks before which I was on so I had hopes maybe I’d get picked but I didn’t find out for sure until Wednesday when it was announced.
But Daly hasn’t been flustered by her sudden arrival back into the England picture: “I know a lot of the girls here already, I don’t necessarily keep in touch with them all the time but I grew up with a lot of them so it was good to come into that as it felt a bit more relaxed – obviously it’s a great group of girls. It’s not been too hectic really, it’s been quite a calm environment to come into for me.”
Whilst some countries like to have their players as close to home as possible, Sampson has shown in the last year or two that it is possible to play abroad and still get selected for England, a thought that Daly admits ran through her mind when she decided to leave for America four years ago.
She says it was a “real positive” to still be selected despite pursuing her career outside of the country and feels a sense of justification in her decision now she’s riding high in the NWSL.
“I wanted to be under Mark’s nose,” she says.
“It was a tough decision to go out there and stay out there but it’s great with the live streaming and things like that they have now out in the USA that he can watch my games.
“He’s had the communication with my club and my college coaches in the past, it’s just great that he can watch for himself instead of just hear reports about me and it does show it doesn’t matter where you play in the world you can still get picked for England.”
Daly was called up by Sampson for the first time in December 2013 when he took a camp of around 30 players that included youngsters like Alex Greenwood, Lucy Bronze, Jade Moore and many more that have become a regular part of his England squad over the past two and a half years.
Whilst Daly appreciated the call-up, she goes on to admit she’s looking forward to proving herself during a game and that knowing Sampson was keeping an eye on her from a distance was a confidence boost.
“It was nice that Mark brought me into his first squad but it was a different feel for me back then – it was a camp. There are a lot of people there and it’s tough to prove yourself when there are so many people but it was still good to get in there and get a foot in the door.
“It wasn’t the easiest situation to adapt to but he’s obviously had the confidence in me to keep an eye on me over the past couple of years, watching the NWSL and for me having that confidence knowing he was watching me and getting feedback on my performances was something that pushed me that little bit further.
“I work my hardest every week with my club but ultimately this is what I’m here for, I want to get my name involved with the England squad because to represent England is the biggest pride that can you have.”
So what of staying in the squad? Sampson has selected a number of attackers since the Women’s World Cup, from Karen Carney to Gemma Davison, from Jodie Taylor to Danielle Carter and from Fran Kirby to Ellen White, plus more.
England currently have attackers that use their direct pace to torment an opponent, skilful players that can unlock a defence and powerful, hard-working attackers that slot straight into Sampson’s philosophy and ‘lioness’ tag.
Not short of confidence, Daly believes she an bring a “different kind of energy” to the squad.
“I’m not saying that [energy] wasn’t there before but maybe just that something that other people aren’t used to and I think I’ve showed that in training. Obviously I don’t know everything that the manager thinks about me but I’m not the type of player that will just let an opponent play, I use intensity and I think that’s something the manager would have looked at.”
Fans in particular will be hoping Daly can also bring some much needed fire power to the squad with goals currently lacking over recent matches.
The team hasn’t managed just to find the net more than once in any game during 2016 against teams that include much lower ranked sides such as Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Whilst Daly can’t be classed as an out-and-out no.9, she’s determined to take her chance if it falls to her against Serbia.
“That’s obviously what anyone wants to do, to make a difference for the team and obviously you need goals to be able to win a game of football. That’s hopefully what we can do because as you say we want to get those goals banged in and hopefully I can be the one that does it.”